Wife and I have two pet rats.
The white one is Susu (“milk” in Malay/Indonesian) and the black/white one is Moo-Moo (named for her Friesian-cow-like markings). They’re great pets, even though it has become obvious that I’m badly allergic to them. Right now I have red bumps along my hands and arms from where I’ve been handling them, and I’m on my fourth bottle of nasal spray in an attempt to deal with the sinus issues. But I’ve grown too fond of them to think about giving them away or putting them down.
Except that we almost put one of them down last week.
Moo, our favourite rat and the official mascot of this blog (her picture is probably the header of this page unless you’re reading this in the distant future and I’ve changed it), has struggled with health problems for a long time. She started sneezing early on and eventually developed the ratty equivalent of a frighteningly loud old-man wheeze. It turned out she has a bad case of mycoplasma, which is extremely common in rats but if they’re lucky (like Susu) they just sneeze every so often without it really bothering them.
The first vet I took Moo to didn’t help much, and by the time I took her to the second one the wheeze had really kicked in. The vet let me listen through a stethoscope to both of them breathing. With Susu I could hear her heart beating super-fast, but Moo-Moo didn’t have a heart beat as far as I could tell. Instead, it was drowned out by a sound resembling the fiery bowels of hell. The disease had settled deep within her lungs.
She’d also become very skinny, which may have had to do with her poor health, but her sister’s dominance hadn’t helped either (Susu often steals food off her). A third reason for her weight loss was discovered a few weeks ago when I noticed Moo was having trouble grabbing rat pellets with her mouth. Closer inspection showed that one of her lower front teeth was extremely long – making it difficult for her to close her mouth, let alone eat properly. We were given two choices; have her put down, or have her teeth filed down while under general anaesthetic. The vet then warned us that the anaesthetic option was expensive (about $300) and it would very likely kill the rat anyway due to her breathing problems.
I left the vet with a heavy heart, thinking I’d have to say goodbye to my cute, skittish, polite, smart, acrobatic, neurotic, sneezy rodent. But before we made the decision, I called up a bunch of other vets in the area. I was partly motivated by money – thinking “if I have to have her killed, I may as well find out if someone can do it for cheaper” and “maybe it’d be worth having a gamble with the tooth filing option if it wasn’t so pricey” – but I was also hoping there might be a third option.
The internet had lots of tips for do-it-yourself rat teeth clipping and some sites even suggested that it wouldn’t hurt the creature at all. My vet had specifically told me not to try it because it could shatter the tooth and cause more problems, but I thought that another vet might be able to convince me it was okay for them to do it without putting her under. It seems there is a “no teeth clipping while conscious” rule among animal carers but it’s very new, as not all the vets agreed (though to be honest, it was obvious that the ones who were willing to do it were the ones that had the least idea of what they were talking about).
One place actually recommended a competitor to us – The Rabbit Shop in Booragoon – and when we found out they could do the procedure for a bit cheaper we decided to give it a shot. Still thinking Moo was likely to not survive the anaesthetic, we took a few farewell pictures and said our goodbyes just in case.
It turned out that Moo was in no real danger at all. The vet put her in a Tupperware container, pumped in some oxygen and sleepy-gas, and in no time she was awake again with manageable sized chompers. It was explained to me that other vets probably lose a lot of ratty patients because they apply the same anaesthesia techniques to small animals (rats, mice etc.) as they do with dogs and cats. But if you know what you’re doing, they always wake up again – respiratory disease or not.
So basically, our original vet told us the wrong thing and our favourite pet almost died because of it.
In the end, the procedure still cost around $300 but we got more out of the consultation than we expected. The vet also removed an infected molar from the back of Moo-Moo’s mouth, which was probably causing the trouble in the first place – the pain from the molar would have caused her to chew on one side so her teeth weren’t wearing down evenly. We were also given a bunch more medicine to feed her, and plenty of tips for her diet.
It can be hard spending that kind of money on a small pet because you feel like you’re not supposed to be that attached to it. It’s seen as pretty normal to spend money on the well-being of a cat or dog … but a rat? Plus, the two of them aren’t far away from the end of their lives anyway (they’re 2 years old now, which is beyond the average life expectancy). But whether I like it or not, I am attached to them, and I wouldn’t feel right about letting them suffer or die without spending a bit of time and money on them.
I now have my work cut out for me – making sure Moo eats well, keeps her teeth worn, and takes all her medication. But take a look at this face and tell me that it’s not worth it.
PS. I plan to do a general post about rat-ownership at some point with tips for keeping them and the pros/cons. I also started making a third video for The Gizzards featuring Moo and Su, and that will surface on here once it’s finished.